The daughter of Anna Mae Aquash became the first employee of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to publicly testify on Tuesday.
Denise Pictou-Maloney, the inquiry’s community liaison officer for Nova Scotia, spent two hours describing the high-profile case of her mother.
Aquash, a Mi’kmaw woman and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), was found dead on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Feb. 24, 1976. Two members of AIM, John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud, were convicted for her murder. Thelma Rios pleaded guilty to being an accessory to kidnapping.
Pictou-Maloney testified how the perpetrators kidnapped, beat and raped her mother before taking a gun to her head. They then lied to AIM members about her murder, alleging that FBI officers killed her.
Pictou-Maloney also watched as Amnesty International and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) publicly supported AIM hero Leonard Peltier, who’s serving time in connection to the murder of two F.B.I. agents. Pictou-Maloney believes Peltier protected Aquash’s killers and was involved in certain incidents leading up to her death. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde later apologized.
“I felt betrayed. I felt alone. I felt hopeless,” Aquash said.
Commissioner Michèle Audette made a tearful plea for forgiveness for having previously supported these organizations.
“I learned something today,” she said. “I was supporting something without knowing that didn’t respect your mom.”
Pictou-Maloney later said she felt justified hearing Audette’s response.
“I think we get caught up in the big picture sometimes,” she said. “We’re not focused on the little details that can really make a difference to families.”
She and her sister were small enough to sit in the same chair when their father sat them down to break the news of Aquash’s death. But the girls wouldn’t believe their mom wasn’t ever coming home for Christmas again. They knew she was a fighter and assumed she was in hiding.
“She was our Wonder Woman,” said Pictou-Maloney.
Almost 28 years after she was buried south of the border, Pictou-Maloney and her sister had their mother’s remains dug up from the earth and moved back home. She’s now buried in the Mi’kmaq community of Sipeknekatik.